On Pride and Queer Time
Poet and co-owner of Edmonton's Glass Bookshop Jason Purcell revisits Pride month in the context of both past and future-building for queer folks, and how queer hope came out of their experiences writing and editing their collection Swollening (Arsenal Pulp Press).
Photo of Jason by Zachary Ayotte.See more details below
I want to think about time. I am always living in queer time, which is to say that I am always living toward something that I have never seen around me: total acceptance, love, and care, for myself and for every other queer person. That time is not this time—not straight white cis capitalist colonial time—but a time on the horizon, out of reach to us but not outside the scope of our desire. This idea comes from José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, which had that destabilizing and world-making effect on me when reading it, orienting me toward that distant and urgent destination, toward another world that is better but that we may never reach in this life. Queer time ticks toward that imagined moment of arrival when we finally cross the gates of utopia and can rest. And then: June. Pride, a month when suddenly we are rendered hyper visible and legible to straight world, whether or not we feel visible or legible to ourselves.
I have always felt conflicted about Pride because I have always felt conflicted about myself. For years I wanted nothing to do with Pride because I wanted nothing to do with my own queerness. I see now that this aversion is one way in which internalized homophobia has worked on me. I wanted to be palatable to the straight world where I had been living. I wanted to feel secure in Alberta where I have lived since childhood. I wanted to pass in straight world, even after having come out—gay, but more than just gay, you know? Like, it isn’t my whole personality—content to be fetishized at the mall or high school parties and flatly refusing the politics that charged my identity as a white queer person. The thing about queer time is that that past is overlaid onto my present. I don’t need to look back at it. It’s here and now, as is that past version of myself. Muñoz writes about queerness as a “temporal arrangement in which the past is a field of possibility in which subjects can act in the present in the service of a new futurity. … [T]he past does things” (16, 28). The lesson for me at this stage in my life is to figure out how to work with that past version of myself as an accomplice toward the goal of utopia.
In Swollening, my debut collection of poetry, I invoke my past in a reparative sense, à la Sedgwick. I look back on my childhood, where every “memory is queer. / These are the terms of this space” (“North of Nipissing Beach” 14), rendering publicly the experiences that I was unable or unwilling to admit to, much less frame as queer, for the first three decades of my life, “through the wound / that never grows over” (“Earring” 24). Memories of coming out, of strained familial relationships, of the queer and fraught and severed connection with my first kiss, of the homophobia of Albertan culture, all loomed over me; even with the reparative goal in mind, reliving these moments got my guard up. My childhood and adolescent selves put up a fight within me. We were all afraid to be seen.
We talk about authors as though they are the sole courageous participant in the act of writing, and that the books we read are the result of one person’s diligent and hard work. Something about our culture (outside of the industry) invisibilizes the fine and patient and necessary work of the editor. Whenever I talk about Swollening, I talk about working with my editor Joshua Whitehead, because he recognized me in all my iterations: childhood, adolescent, adult, afraid, cautious, brave, self-loathing, self-loving. Josh noticed when my guard was up and gently helped me go where I needed for the sake of the poem and my own well-being, always safely and lovingly. I think about the comments he left in Word documents sent back and forth—“I think there is more hiding in here. Let’s talk.”—and the ways that editing not only makes a book, but that community care makes a person, especially in a queer sense. Editing this book together was a conversation about queerness. Writing this book was one part of repair, but working with Josh was what really healed my queer self.
Working with Josh, I was called into community and friendship with each email exchange and telephone call. Even through difficult conversations about the poems, I felt seen and held as a writer and as a queer person. More than that, there was an understanding that we cared for one another and for the work, what it could do and what we could do together. We brought our different and varied selves to the task of editing this collection, coming from our unique identities and histories and making something together. We decided that Swollening should move toward a queer hope, the way Muñoz guides us toward a future utopia, in a way that accompanies the queer reader. We decided this was to be the book I wish I had read in adolescence.
Josh helped me find myself in queer time. Working with Josh helped me hold the hands of my past and walk, linked, toward the horizon. Muñoz writes that “[h]eteronormative culture makes queers think that both the past and the future do not belong to them. All we are allowed to imagine is barely surviving the present” (112). For the first three decades of my life, this was my standard of living. Before writing Swollening and working with Josh, I was barely surviving alongside the effects of homophobia—externalized and internalized—“something you can’t see / but that bruises nonetheless” (“’Berta Boys”). The process of working with Josh, beyond the joy of witnessing his brilliant editorial eye in action, was to be invited to be queer, to hold together all of the difficult and violent and vulnerable moments that can make up so much of queer life and to find joy in one another in spite of it. To move toward joy.
It was during our last round of edits that I wrote the poem that closes the collection, “in the garden with my faggots,” which is an ode to this newfound sense of queer kinship I’ve found, and that describes the utopia I’m walking toward. With Pride month upon us, I feel less conflicted about the spaces that it opens up for queer joy (though still conflicted about the way it has been co-opted and corporatized). Perhaps it can be a little utopia where we can go together, helping each other find ourselves in this world, where we can “return to the comfort / of proximity to bodies, of belonging / to bodies,” where I can “love that i am alive” (“in the garden with my faggots”).
Jason Purcell is a writer and musician from amiskwaciwaskahikan, Treaty 6 (Edmonton, Alberta), where they are also the co-owner of Glass Bookshop. As a chronically ill writer, Jason writes at the intersection of queerness and illness and is the author of the chapbook A Place More Hospitable (Anstruther Press). Swollening is their first full-length collection.
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